7th December 2012
The return of Boris to Bollyland: 48 hours of business
Many people in London, and other parts of the UK, think they know a good deal about the Mayor of the capital, Boris Johnson: judging from the number of British tourists who greeted him in hotels or on the streets of Mumbai he must also be one of our most widely recognised politicians.
Less well known is that the Mayor’s wife has strong connections to India, as her mother was originally from the Punjab.
When he was here on holiday with his wife some two years ago the Mayor gave up an evening to meet a group of top Indian executives, including for example the head of India’s largest IT outsourcing company Tata Consultancy Services, to talk about their investments in London. He described the preparations for the Olympics, and promised to return afterwards on an official visit – assuming the Games were a success, and he was re-elected!
As all Londoners know Boris was re-elected, and the Olympics were a huge success – and the Mayor kept his promise by visiting Mumbai last week. His timing was impeccable, arriving in the city as our office gave a reception sponsored generously by Jaguar and British Airways for the touring England cricket team.
As the London Times correspondent, Robin Pagnamenta wrote, the event was attended “by a bevy of figures from the worlds of Indian business and media”, who the whole of the England team mixed with for over two hours, engaging in conversation with cricket-mad Indians and putting up with great patience and good humour endless requests for photographs.
Boris didn’t escape the photographers’ attention either, and the next day there was a scrum of them to greet him, Lawrence Dallaglio and Kevin Pietersen for a visit to a charity, Magic Bus, founded by a Brit, Matthew Spacie, to support thousands of children from poorer communities. As well as providing some much needed sports equipment to Magic Bus, the visit could also serve to interest more high profile sportsmen from the UK in its work.
Business with London remained at the core of the visit, and from the sweltering dusty grounds next to the Port, and only a cricket ball’s throw from some of Mumbai’s worst slums, the Mayor and his business delegation went to call on the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to talk about developing closer links with London.
The delegation heard from officials of ambitious plans to build a metro in Mumbai, and discussed the possibility of Transport for London sharing its experience and expertise with Mumbai.
Transport also featured in subsequent discussions with a senior group from the Tata company, with more positive news about the turnaround of Jaguar and Land Rover under the Indian conglomerate’s leadership, as well as expanding business in London for its TCS operation. Other companies who also held discussions with the Mayor, London & Partners and his delegation were Reliance Industries and Essar, who both have growing business in London, not least following Essar’s flotation of its energy business on the London Stock Exchange.
In his whirlwind visit to Mumbai, the Mayor spent a couple of hours having a business discussion with senior Bollywood producers where he learnt that London is a popular option for film shoots and was told about upcoming movies to be filmed there. He also joined 2 business breakfast sessions and launched a new Carbon Index at the Bombay stock Exchange, which was followed by a seminar whose theme was the way in which Indian companies are increasingly using London as base for business in third markets.
Jitesh Gadhia, Senior Managing Director of the Blackstone Group in London, and Chris Parsons from Herbert Smith Freehills, both gave compelling presentations on how London is growing in importance for Indian business.
After a final speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Western India branch, chaired by one of the doyens of Indian business Adi Godrej, the Mayor sped round for an hour to see his wife’s hospitable family – who had also invited still more businesspeople with London links to meet him – before heading off for a 2am flight back to the capital.
He left behind a slightly exhausted but satisfied team in our office, pleased to know that the Mayor had impressed on many of Mumbai’s top industrialists that London is very much open for business with Mumbai – and happy to have worked for 48 hours with one of the UK’s most irrepressible politicians.
One of the most respected journalists in Mumbai told me afterwards he judged the visit to have engaged and appealed to this city’s business community in a way not many foreign visitors manage.